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My pictures from Day One.

I got to Kyoto (and back) via SFO and NGO. On the way there, I didn't sleep much, probably because I was too excited. My new folding foot stand came in handy, though—I'm going to take it on all flights in the future. If you're short like me, I recommend one for bringing the floor up to your feet anywhere you have to sit for a long time. Somewhere over the Pacific I watched the second half or so of Children of Men. Even though I know how it ends, I liked it enough to add it to my rental queue so I can see the whole thing.

teahouse at Kyoto's Imperial Palace groundsIt was at baggage claim in NGO where I met my first fellow groupie, Kathy from Philadelphia. This autumn I'll have to go visit her and Shofuso, of which we're both members. Shortly afterward we met Bobbie and Jody, longtime buddies from California, and the four of us set off for Kyoto via Meitetsu, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, and taxi. Between hauling our luggage around, accidentally plopping ourselves down in a smoking car, and finding our taxi drivers had taken us to the wrong hotel, we were very tired by the time we got to our hotel in Kyoto. But not more tired than we were hungry: our organizer's local friend Junko met us and took us out to a little neighborhood restaurant where I enjoyed a thoroughly fortifying bowl of curry udon.

For the six nights we stayed at the western-style hotel, I had a single room. A weird thing about some (most?) Japanese hotels is that you're supposed to turn in your room key to the front desk every time you leave the hotel premises and pick it up when you return. I assume this is to prevent the copying of room keys, but until and unless the front desk staff gets to know your face, you could be a random stranger walking up to the front desk and requesting a key for any room you want, without showing any identification. Weird security.

On the morning of our first full day in Kyoto, after getting to know each other in our group of 14-15 people, we took a walk through Kyōto Gyoen (the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto) and then along the Kamo River.
Especially fun was crossing the river by hopping across stones carved into turtle shapes. Junko was great about getting lunch and dinner reservations for our group at awesome little restaurants we never would otherwise have found, and which would have imploded had we surprised them with a group of our size. Lunch our first day was oyakodon, sprinkled experimentally with spices like shichimi.

Kyōto Gyoen, with its relatively wide open spaces, seemed like a good place to break out my GPS receiver, but even after twenty minutes (or maybe more) it couldn't see more than one satellite. I expected it would take a little while to gets its bearings after being hauled to the other side of the planet, but its disorientation overcame my patience.

crossing the Kamo RiverOur group traveled medium distances by taxi, which was a contrast with my previous trip to Japan, when I rode the rails. When you can squeeze four passengers in a taxi, it's apparently pretty economical. (The trip fee we paid up front covered all transportation within Japan as well as lodging and almost all meals; I didn't work out the numbers.) Taxis in Japan are quite nice, with their white gloves; crisp service caps; immaculate, doilied interiors; and automatically-opening and -closing passenger doors.

After lunch, we stopped by Miyako Messe, an exhibition hall that was showing kimono, various textile work, and other traditional craftwork. Along with some of the exhibits were video screens playing some exquisitely produced footage of traditional crafts being made in traditional ways. In retrospect, I wish I could've bought a DVD of it.

Next we walked over to the Hosomi Museum, where we attended a tea ceremony in Koko-an and viewed the museum's collection of old Noritake china produced in Japan for export to various countries. I feel shamefully consumerist saying so, but my favorite part was their gift shop, brimming as it was with lovely and interesting "art goods". (That's right, the tea ceremony wasn't my favorite part; it was fine, but with over a dozen guests, almost all of them new to tea ceremony and never instructed in guest etiquette, it's naturally a different experience from what I have in my local tea circle.)

The evening brought us to the home of Gary, a local buyer for and acquaintance of our trip organizer; he rents a deteriorating old machiya. Over bento dinners, we marveled at the place while lamenting that it will probably be razed and replaced with soulless, concrete condominiums. After dinner, Gary invited over a guy he knows who does kōdō (Japanese incense ceremony) for a demonstration. He passed out little coded sachets and explained genjikō, a game played with them. He also showed us how incense wood chips are warmed on a bed of ash embedded with burning charcoal. I was inspired to buy—later in the trip—some white ash, ceremonial charcoal, sandalwood chips, and a mica plate so I can try kōdō at home. Incense is a part of Japanese tea ceremony, but not a part our teacher has explained yet in our class.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
That sounds like the Coolest Trip Ever! I wish I could've been there with you to take it all in... :)

Jun. 6th, 2007 04:57 am (UTC)
How awesome; thanks for writing this all up and letting us see the trip through your eyes.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )